EI Romania

Cultivating empathy in the workplace

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Empathy has never been in more explicit demand than now when our hybrid working situations allow for more disconnection and isolation.

Bring to mind your work persona suit that you put on working days, allowing your professional self to come into the spotlight, leaving no space for your other dimensions. The parent. The friend. The casual-weekend-pottery-maker.

Understandably, you can’t wait to take it off as soon as you get home.

Like icebergs, we often see and perceive only 10% above the water at work, while the remaining 90 percent of good stuff remains under.

The only viable solution to bringing more of us to work is feeling accepted, understood, and listened to.

And that cannot happen unless we take a serious look at the role empathy plays in the quality of our work and our relationships in the workplace. 

In order to support each other stay in good shape, grow and perform to our best, empathy has to become central in our working cultures.

And let’s define empathy – according to Brene Brown it means connecting with another person. 


How empathy fuels productivity

Not only does it strengthen relationships and increase collaboration, which in turn drives productivity – empathy matters big time in coaching and leadership as well.

By understanding and integrating empathy in the office, it becomes much easier to build productive teams, resolve conflict (based on mutual understanding) and support personalized developmental paths for each and everyone.

According to HBR, companies with work cultures centered on empathy outperform those that are not by at least 50% in productivity, earnings, and growth.

Research shows that when supervisors make an effort to get to know their employees, whether it is work-related or not, people become more likely to support fellow colleagues, as well as to come up with new ideas.

And so, compassionate empathy – describing the ability to understand how other people are feeling and to respond accordingly – is a key soft skill leaders and employees alike must master in order to create safer working environments where nurturing relationships generate engagement and better results. 

Implementing empathic approaches at work improves relationships – management-to-employee as well as employee-to-employee, and builds trust.

It gets us feeling respected, appreciated, and safe, and to be honest, what better formula there is for getting engaged and giving your best?


Three simple ways to build more empathy

While some of us are naturally more empathetic than others, there are strategies to practice and exercises one can do to nurture empathy, from acknowledging bias to actively engaging in conversations with people who share different worldviews.


#1. Extend your social circle 

Invite a colleague you don’t know very well for lunch or coffee. Talk to new people. Try to understand and embrace new ways of seeing things.

We tend to surround ourselves with people who think and behave like us – we live in bubbles, homogenous social circles – which helps create and supports an inevitable empathy deficit.


#2. Get curious about the experiences of others, especially those you would initially disagree with

An ugly barrier to becoming more empathetic is biased.

It is our responsibility as a citizen of a diverse world and a member of a diverse work environment, to get ourselves educated and break the bias.

Engage in hypothetical situations or bigger world issues that you might tend to disagree with.

Talk to someone who has a different point of view. What might you learn here?

Healthy debate and finding out what else is possible might just open our hearts a little bit more.

Listen for feelings, engage with feelings, not just your rational brain. 

If you’re not there yet in terms of open but conflicting sides in a direct conversation, start reading about situations you didn’t and couldn’t experience yourself  – it will increase your ability to understand the thoughts and feelings of others.

Read about the anti-vaxxers, read about immigrants, read about people with different cultural and life experiences.

Read about the rich and the poor, about the successful and unsuccessful. 


#3. Advocate for things that will help others, even if they don’t affect you directly 

Help organize an event for LGBTQ+ colleagues even if you’re not a member of the community.

Advocate for equity for underrepresented ethnic, or gender groups, for parents of beautiful children with autism.

Be an agent of change and work towards building more inclusive and involved workplaces.

Even when it’s outside your comfort zone. 

A world with no more fake persona suits, one where Mondays and Fridays are just as good and where one feels seen and appreciated for both the 10 and the remaining 90 percent of the iceberg is possible.

It all starts with paying more attention to each other and listening. Just like that.

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